Customers lament Better Place closure

“It really wasn’t about saving money: It was about driving and feeling good about driving again," customer says.

May 27, 2013 04:53
4 minute read.
Nadav in Better Place car

Nadav in Better Place car_390. (photo credit: Nadav Shemer)

Pulling out of the Better Place battery-switch station at Saharov Gardens on his way to Jerusalem on Sunday morning, British immigrant Brian John Thomas lamented the news circulating about the Israeli electric car company’s decision to close.

“I personally feel very sad that it hasn’t been made to work,” he told The Jerusalem Post from his car speakerphone.

“I feel disappointed in the timing of, for example, when Shai [Agassi] left. I think that massively affected sales at a critical time.”

Agassi, the founder and former CEO of Better Place, stepped down in 2012.

While sales may have dropped rapidly, Thomas stressed that this trend did not speak at all to the quality of the product.

“The concept and the execution that customers experience on a daily basis is excellent beyond words,” he said. “It really is something amazing to see how happy all the customers are." Thomas, who purchased his Better Place Renault Fluence ZE just over a year ago, explained how the company’s fall speaks to the “massive failings” of Israelis to warm up to electric vehicles in general. While Toyota importers have recently started to bring in the plug-in version of the Prius, other popular plug-in electric cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf have failed thus far to make it to Israel – despite the fact that their battery ranges would be sufficient for many drivers here, Thomas said.

“The importers of cars in this country are dead set against electrification,” he added.

Thomas just as much blamed the government for its failure to encourage electric car implementation by deciding not to provide discounted parking rates or Road 6 tolls for electric vehicles, and not ensuring permanent tax breaks. When Health Ministry Yael German demanded an electric car for her office, the government refused her request, he added.

“There hasn’t just been no government support, there has been government hindrance,” Thomas said.

Tossing in some government support, however, when rumors were circulating that the company would be facing bankruptcy, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said on Saturday evening that he would be turning to the company management in hopes of delaying the decision to close.

“This is a national project that promises a cleaner and greener future,” Peretz said. “Its closure would cause serious damage to those who believed in the new project and who will find themselves in a hopeless situation, and will bring harm to employees. The State of Israel contributed to the electric cars so that they were virtually a tax-free purchase. More effort must be made in order to save this project.”

Although “the car isn’t perfect,” Thomas spoke of his enjoyment of the quiet ride, and his displeasure at the fact that he has to ride next to buses spewing diesel fumes.

Uncertain as to what will happen with his car in the future, Thomas said he paid up front for the battery-switch capability and the electricity usage for four years. If no one ends up purchasing Better Place and continuing its operations, perhaps the company could give each of its customers a permanent battery, and they could then use the vehicle as simply a plug-in car, he suggested.

“If the electricity keeps working but the switch stations stop working, I can still keep the car,” he said.

He would, however, have to change cars with his wife who tends to drive shorter distances, as a plug-in vehicle without the option to switch batteries mid-drive can only go so far.

“That’s if I can still get electricity from my apartment,” Thomas said. “Plug-in cars do work within their limitations and those who drive them absolutely love them.”

Similarly to Thomas, Yaara Di Segni also purchased a Better Place car about a year ago and said that she has been “enjoying it beyond [her] wildest expectations.

“I hope that a solution will be found for the current crisis as I truly believe electric vehicles are the future and that battery changing is the way to give the electric car unlimited range,” Di Segni told the Post on Sunday.

“For me, this makes so much sense, that it just has to succeed, it is the future, no doubt about it, now we just have to hope that a way can be found to continue to make this future a reality.”

Both the car and the service that came with it were “wonderful” in Di Segni’s opinion.

“We all took the car for different reasons but came to realize that we had a Mercedes level car for less than a Mazda and the service was outstanding.

Something way beyond the normal in Israel.”

Thomas added, “It really wasn’t about saving money: It was about driving and feeling good about driving again.”

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